Some small business owners are really mad at how much they have to spend on online advertising – Google ads, Facebook ads, Twitter ads – only to find out that once their campaign is finished, the ads disappear. Yes, these online advertising platforms can work but what have you got to show for it at the end of your campaign?
The answer, some small business marketing experts say, is to rather invest in your own media property such as a blog posts, guest blog posts, email campaigns, sales letters or pod cast interviews you can put on your website or blog.
I don’t think this is an either or situation. Advertising, in whatever form it takes, is there as a paid message to help drive sales for your business. We’ve got to distinguish here between institutional advertising and advertising that’s aimed at persuading customers to buy. In big product categories such as motor vehicles and banks much of the advertising is done on a vague promise for branding. A small business needs to do branding but it won’t survive unless it does advertising whether that is by word-of-mouth, in local business directories one websites that has a clear sales appeal. Radio, by the way, is a local advertising opportunity that many small businesses are missing out on.
Publicity or so-called “communications” is designed to be more engaging and hook the listener, reader or viewer interest but with a more subtle approach to selling (although the implied sales persuasion is not always that well hidden – and that’s what journalists call puffery or blatant selling disguised as editorial content). This would include press releases, social media, advertorials, interviews in the media (including pod cast interviews), web articles and blog posts.
Often it’s just not possible to substitute promotion or publicity for straight advertising where you make your potential customer a special offer and have clear and deliberate call to action.
One area that I think is overlooked for small business is their own local newspapers. These community newspapers are well read – if copies are available in your local supermarket or coffee shop, just notice how quickly they disappear. The point is that there are opportunity for articles in these local newspapers that small business owners should look at.
I checked a couple of local community newspapers recently and spotted several stories that were actually products stories but cleverly disguised as stories that readers would enjoy. Take this one, for example, “Climbing to the top”. It’s a story that gets full back page treatment about how rockclimbing is a sport enjoyed by many and is suitable for children and adults. But behind the story and the half page photograph is the small business RockFit Functional Training. Well done to this outfit for generating all this publicity in their local rag.
A story titled “Now market day is only a click away” is about Timothy & Clover an online food market that delivers fresh organic, pasture-reared and whole foods. The article discusses health but behind it is clearly the small business, which has done fabulously with publicity.
A play (a play is a product isn’t it?) about the “Rocky Horror Show” staged at a large local theatre gets two stories on the same page with titles “Up close and personal with Frank-n-Furter” and “Rocky Horror Show Girl says it like it is”. In another issue of the same publication a week later there is more publicity, “Fans dress up for the Rocky Horror Show”. Behind these stories is an active public relations agent who is drumming up publicity each week while the show is on for the theatre company.
None of these stories were accompanied by an advertisement. The local newspaper took these as straight news and feature stories even though behind each one was a product. If you are approached for an advert to tie in with a story about your product or service, then decide whether it would be worth your while. You don’t have to say yes. Some newspapers local newspapers may not use your story which leaves you to find publicity elsewhere. But if it does suit your purpose perhaps an advertisement may well be worth it because you can give details about your products and service that you wouldn’t be able to provide in a editorial piece.
I’m not saying that you have to shamelessly chase for publicity all the time. One of the stories that I enjoyed most was titled “Homeless get jobs”. This was a story about how a community cleanup project has enabled homeless people to make money by removing rubbish off the streets. In this case the whole initiative is financed by a businessman but one who chose to remain anonymous. Rather than shamelessly chasing for publicity all the time, wanting to get their name in the paper for any small thing they do, this business person chose to remain anonymous and let the campaign and its good work get the attention (rather than focus on him for his good deeds).
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